On Friday, we celebrated 40 years of Title IX, a section of the Education Amendments of 1972 that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal funding. To commemorate the anniversary, the Senate Committee on Help, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing to recount Title IX’s successes over the past four decades. The American Association of University Women gathered four women, each pioneers in their fields, to testify before the committee:

  1. Billie Jean King, former professional tennis player and founder of the Women’s Tennis Association
  2. Nancy Hogshead-Makar, 1984 Olympic swimming gold medalist and professor at Florida Coastal School of Law
  3. Dr. Mae Carol Jemison, a physician and the first woman of color to fly in space
  4. Rear Admiral Sandra L. Stosz, Superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, the first woman to head a U.S. service academy

The women shared their own experiences with Title IX as well as observations of Title IX’s effect in their fields today.

Celebrating 40 Years of Title IX

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the Senate HELP Committee, with the four witnesses for the Title IX hearing.

Hogshead-Makar wore many hats in her testimony before the committee: collegiate athlete and direct beneficiary of Title IX; law professor and Senior Director of Advocacy at the Women’s Sports Foundation; and parent of a son and twin daughters. Hogshead-Makar spoke from all three perspectives to in addressing a common misconception that Title IX funding for women’s sports takes away funding from men’s opportunities. She shared a personal story to illustrate how society should respond to this complaint: Upon the birth of her twin daughters, Hogshead-Makar’s then 5-year-old son complained his new sisters were taking away from his time with Mom and Dad. It was true, Hogshead-Makar admitted, but did not warrant grievance. Rather, her son now had to adapt to the change and share family resources with his siblings. The girls were new but equally important parts of their family. This, Hogshead-Makar argued, is how we should think of Title IX: Funding women’s athletics came second, but it should not be treated as secondary.

Title IX extends beyond the world of sports. It also equalizes opportunities in employment, protects against sexual harassment and assault, and expands women’s access to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, a field previously driven by men. Dr. Jemison, an astronaut, acknowledged Title IX’s role in integrating women not only into the Space Program but also into STEM classrooms and education programs. Further, Dr. Jemison reminded us that Title IX is not designed solely to benefit women. In the 40 years since Title IX’s implementation, men have made strides in several areas of health care that were historically dominated by women.

Celebrating 40 Years of Title IX The Reform Movement has long championed the values laid out in Title IX and other anti-discrimination laws. In 1976, the Union for Reform Judaism passed a resolution affirming its support for women’s equality and prohibiting sex-based discrimination in placement procedures in the rabbinate. The resolution also commended Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion as the first Jewish seminary to ordain women as rabbis, as well as called for programs and education to “secure the equality of women within congregational life.”

More broadly, equal opportunity and support for women in any given field brings the potential for twice as many bright, innovative minds; there is no reason not to take full advantage of America’s talent pool. Title IX’s 40 years boast a wealth of triumphs, and we can (and should!) look forward to continuing to close the gap.

Rachel Chung is a participant in the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship Program. She is interning at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Senate.